It's hard not be riding high on the Musketeers right now. 7-0, #12 in the nation, #14 in KenPom, and steamrolling top 50 opponents by an average of 18 points adds up to a pretty heady mix. There are two more minor hurdles in the road ahead before the Crosstown Shootout, but the season is setting up to be a very successful one at this point.
It's not likely, however, that this team is going to run the table. I know that's the not the news anyone wants to hear right now, but undefeated teams that John Calipari hasn't paid exorbitant amounts for aren't the norm in college basketball. Xavier also isn't a team that is operating without flaws right now. Yes, there are three excellent wins on the board, but games against Miami, NKU, and Missouri didn't exactly tax the team or provide much of an opportunity to suss out and refine flaws. So what are the potential pitfalls for the Musketeers this season? Something like this.
1. Interior offense
It seems incongruous to say this about a team with Jalen Reynolds, James Farr, and Trevon Bluiett, but Xavier is pretty poor at scoring the ball inside. Their 47.8% mark from inside the arc is good for 186th in the nation, down between Longwood and the aforementioned NKU. Only 46.5% of Xavier's points come from two pointers. That puts them at 262nd in the nation and down amongst teams that are either wretched or shoot the three well. Right now, Xavier gets a 15th best in the nation 27% of their points at the line. Getting fouled on offensive rebounds has been an acceptable strategy so far, but when the Ref Show finally stops in early February like it does every year, Xavier will have to be able to score inside.
This probably goes for a lot of teams right now, but Xavier's penchant for fouling has kept them from getting the most out of their best players. Yes, Karl Hess and TV Teddy Valentine have something to do with that, but it's not as if these are guys who were previously lauded for their clean approach to defense. If never substituted in a 40 minute game, Jalen Reynolds, James Farr, LAJ, Sean O'Mara, Makinde London, and Kaiser Gates would all foul out. Only Larry among that group would survive in an NBA game with six fouls to give. Opponents are only shooting 70% from the line against Xavier, but they are still getting more than 2% more than the national average of their points from there.
3. Three point defense
Less than 40 teams in the nation allow more three point attempts than Xavier. Opponents score 34% of their points from behind the arc, good for 57th most in the nation. Xavier's one saving grace is the one they have least control over, their opponents have only made 33.5% of their myriad attempts from deep. Fatigue may play a role in that. Those numbers are all substantially worse than they were last year. Until the Musketeers tighten up the perimeter defense, they are going to be susceptible to being bombed into a loss.
4. The schedule
The advantage to the Big East is that you are never more than a week away from a chance for a quality win. (Bizarrely, Xavier plays DePaul and St. John's back to back both times this year). The problem with this is that the steady barrage of good games can leave teams weary when facing lesser opponents. The Musketeers lost to DePaul and Seton Hall after their wins over Georgetown last year. Whether that is an example of mental or physical fatigue is ultimately beside the point that the schedule wears teams down.
So yes, there are some factors that could lead to Xavier losing a bit of their shine down the road. Consider this, though, the Musketeers are also very nearly elite on both ends of the floor. Losses will come, and when they do they will most likely come from one of these for things, but the losses aren't going to come very frequently.